One of my absolute favorite chip flavors is…ketchup. If that sounds odd or foreign to you, well, that makes sense. Ketchup chips are a Canadian thing, which begs the question: Why the hell aren’t ketchup chips more popular in the U.S.?
On paper, ketchup is the most obvious chip flavor of all time, and also the most American. I mean, potatoes and ketchup are basically an institution in the States. According to this graphic, Americans consume 71 pounds of ketchup per year—per person. We eat it with hot dogs, french fries, burgers, meatloaf, eggs, and steak (not me personally on those last two—gross). It’s been steadily ingrained in our eating habits for the better part of a century. So, how on earth has Canada cornered the market on ketchup chips? Actually, let me rephrase that question as an emotion-fueled, entitled, classically American accusation: How dare Canada steal our ardent love of ketchup and infuse it so successfully into their potato chips! It’s not fair. We deserve that glory.
This Food Network article about the history of ketchup chips wonders the same thing, while acknowledging that the history of this chip flavor is mired in uncertainty. The article states that Herr’s has reportedly sold ketchup-flavored chips since the early 1980’s, about a decade after Hostess brand potato chips are believed to have pioneered the ketchup flavor in the 70’s (Hostess, by the way, eventually merged with Lay’s) and sold them exclusively in Canada. So, within that decade, it seems that ketchup chips were being sold in America and in Canada. But regardless of which country got their first, the popularity of the chip skyrocketed in Canada. Nowadays, every major chip manufacturer sells them there, including Lay’s, Pringles, Miss Vickie’s, and Ruffles.
I’ve got a lot of Canadian friends out here in Los Angeles, including my former roommate, who threw lots of Canadian-filled parties at our old apartment. Ketchup chips were always in a bowl at these parties (along with All Dressed chips). And according to my Canadian friends’ Instagram stories and their excitement when someone brings back ketchup chips from a trip up north, it’s obvious that they have a loyal devotion for this snack. In the U.S., we don’t share this devotion. The ketchup flavor is not firmly implanted in our snack culture; instead, we tend to gravitate towards chips that are spicy, cheesy, and bold.
There is one U.S. brand that regularly sells ketchup chips, and that’s Herr’s. I grew up on Herr’s ketchup chips in the chip capital of America, gorgeously gloomy Pennsylvania. As a lazy, aimless teenager, my go-to snack order at the local Tic-Toc was a Little Debbie oatmeal pie, a Dad’s root beer, and a bag of Herr’s ketchup chips. Then it was back to my parent’s basement to play Mortal Kombat, confident I would die a virgin. My point is, ketchup chips were a part of my world growing up. So I was shocked to learn, as I moved farther west, that they were not sold in the rest of the country.
Ketchup chips do feel like something that America should be able to claim for its own. Ketchup was, after all, invented in the U.S. by scientist James Mease, back when people called tomatoes “love apples.” (On that subject, can we stop calling foods “aphrodisiacs” and just admit that anything can make someone horny?) While I do buy that Canada invented the ketchup chip, I don’t understand why it took off in Canada but not here. Maybe the Canadian companies had better marketing for their ketchup chips, more manufacturers, or more of a lust for a flavor that’s less common in their country? Maybe in the U.S. we’re already high on our own supply and 71 pounds per person of ketchup a year is enough for us. Or maybe we simply feel that ketchup pairs well with fries but potato chips should explore other, more adventurous flavors. (And we have done that quite successfully— America’s canon of chip flavors is vast and delicious.)
Still, I love ketchup chips for their unique directness. It’s not easy to take the flavor of one product and distill it into another, or “making a thing taste like a thing,” as I heard Rhett say once on Good Mythical Morning. But ketchup chips do this very well. They take the classically sweet, tangy, fruity, and vegetal flavor of ketchup and make an enticing chip powder out of it. Ketchup chips single handedly fulfill that dual need for crispy French fries and a tangy condiment. And that’s kind of incredible.
So, where do you buy these things if they’re not readily available in stores? If you know me, you know that I’m a disciple of Herr’s, the chip company I hold in the highest esteem. They produce some of the most flavorful and interesting chips on the market today; Herr’s rarely takes an L. It also looks like they’re the only purveyor of ketchup chips here in the U.S. Or, if you want to try the iconic ketchup chips of our brothers and sisters north of the border, you can buy this variety pack on Amazon.
Ketchup chips are sweet, tangy, and delightful, and they recreate that classic fast food french fry-eating experience to a tee. It’s time to spread awareness and make ketchup chips more prolific in the U.S. As inventors of ketchup and leaders in junk food innovation, we are the rightful heirs.